Are Republicans crazy?

Ted Bromund examines the gap between conservatives and Republicans and asks what's so extreme about conservatism?

Why are Republicans consistently portrayed as 'crazy'?
Ted Bromund
On 4 May 2012 09:27

I don’t know.  I’m a conservative.

Seriously, that’s part of the problem. In Britain, most conservatives are Conservatives. In the United States, you can be conservative but not Republican, or indeed, Republican and not conservative. All too frequently, criticism of the Republican Party – sometimes by those who should know better – spills over, or mutates into, arguments about the philosophic basis of conservatism or the intellectual merits (which are usually found to be slight) of conservatives.

But it’s the question that respectable places like The Economist are writing about. And sure, if you start with the assumption that bigger government is by definition reasonable, then anyone – Republican or conservative – who wants to roll back government is by definition unreasonable. Crazy, even.

But take a look at Greece. Is it so crazy to think that the path the U.S. is on is unsustainable? Is it really true that Obamacare, for which the government’s own lawyers could cite no Constitutional precedent, is just business as usual? Is spending almost a billion stimulus dollars on shovel-ready jobs that the President acknowledges didn’t exist really the essence of rational centrism?

But let’s start at the beginning. Last week, I read a comment by The Economist on the first round of France’s presidential election, bracingly titled “Are 18% of French people racist?,” referring to the share of the vote won by Marine Le Pen. The Economist’s answer was no: the Le Pen vote, we are assured, “reflects . . .a mix of disappointment with Mr Sarkozy, despair at the level of joblessness, bewilderment in the face of globalisation, frustration at the impotence of Europe, and disillusion with the political class.”

For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that’s correct. It’s certainly a very balanced analysis. But it’s remarkable that a French party that was until recently closely associated with xenophobia, neo-Nazism, and anti-Semitism – and still has far-left economics – gets this kind of understanding, respectful treatment, while The Economist’s Lexington column considers the question “Are the Republicans mad?,” and concludes that while they aren’t clinically insane, they certainly are radical. More radical than the National Front? By The Economist’s way of telling it, apparently so.

Sweeping charges of Republican – or conservative – extremism amount to two things: a way to denigrate policies that liberals don’t like, and, as The Economist illustrates, a journalistic trope that gets applied to Republicans with far, far more severity than it does to much, much more extreme outfits like the National Front.

The reason for this, I think, is simple: to be blunt about it, and with due disregard for the Euro, what happens in France matters mostly to France, while what happens in the U.S. matters to quite a lot of places that are not in the United States. It’s not that liberals (or U.S. conservatives, for that matter) have much affection for Le Pen – but everyone can afford to be majestically objective about things that won’t make much difference to them personally. About the U.S., no such objectivity is possible, because the U.S. definitely does make a difference.

My own view is that error and unreason are widely distributed across humanity, and any reasonably-sized group of people is likely to contain a similar amount of both. To an extent, that’s one reason I’m conservative: since people (including the very educated) are likely to get it wrong most of the time, I think it’s prudent to keep government as small as possible so as to limit its opportunities for inflicting damage. On the other hand, so much contemporary liberalism – dating back to the Progressives of the late-nineteenth century – is based on the idea that while the people are dopes, the elites are wise.

But we’ve learned a lot in recent years from economists like Daniel Kahneman about the ways in which people – all people – are far from purely logical. That includes scientists, such as biologists like Richard Dawkins, who base their atheism on a dogmatic belief in the incompatibility of science and religion, a belief that was born in the eighteenth century and hasn’t moved on much intellectually since then.

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